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Dave Roberts brings diversity to the San Diego County supervisors

He is the first Democrat on the board in more than two decades. He's also the first new supervisor in 18 years. And he's a gay, married father of five.

November 23, 2012|By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
  • Newly elected San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts, right, and his spouse, Wally Oliver, center, with their five children, from left: Alex Oliver, 12, Robert Roberts, 17, Natalee Roberts, 4, Joe Roberts, 5, and Julian Oliver, 8, at Del Mar City Beach.
Newly elected San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts, right, and his… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

DEL MAR — In January, when he joins the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, Dave Roberts will be the only Democrat among four Republicans, the first Democrat on the board in more than two decades.

He will also be the first new supervisor in 18 years. And he will be the only one who is not a graduate of San Diego State. He has three degrees from American University in Washington, D.C.

He's also gay and married to a retired Air Force master sergeant. The two are adoptive parents to five former foster children, ages 4 to 17, who call them Daddy Dave and Daddy Wally.

With Roberts' election to a district representing a portion of San Diego and several seaside communities north of the city, diversity has arrived for the Board of Supervisors, long one of the region's most homogenous governing bodies.

"I'm going to bring some unique characteristics," Roberts, 51, said with a laugh during a family outing on the beach here.

Roberts hopes to concentrate on the same issues he focused on while serving on the Solana Beach City Council, where he is currently deputy mayor: regional fire protection, expansion of the San Dieguito River Park and "sensible" growth.

Roberts is a Democrat in the style of Republican-leaning northern San Diego County: fiscally conservative. He worked as a budget analyst for the Department of Defense and as a corporate vice president for the La Jolla-based defense contractor SAIC. He was a Republican until some in the GOP took exception to a gay man working in the Pentagon.

"The Republicans wanted me to be fired," Roberts said. "That's when I changed political parties."

Some of his first experience in government came from working as a staffer to Sen. Lowell Weicker, a Republican from Connecticut. "I learned from working for Sen. Weicker that you can make change if you're in the right place," Roberts said.

In 2009, Democratic party officials encouraged Roberts to seek the party's nomination to face incumbent Brian Bilbray (R-Carlsbad) in the 50th Congressional District.

On the verge of declaring his candidacy, Roberts was alerted by social workers about two children who needed a "forever" home. He decided that the adoption process took precedence over his political career.

Now there are five children in the two-story home in Solana Beach once owned by singer Patti Page: Robert, 17; Alex, 12; Julian, 8; Joe, 5; and Natalee, 4. Three of the children have taken the last name Roberts, and two took his spouse's last name, Oliver.

"We don't like double names," Roberts said.

Roberts and Wally Oliver, 55, have been together for 14 years. They had a commitment ceremony in 1998 and married in July 2008 in the brief period when county clerks in California were allowed to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

The family may soon expand.

"Wally would like a baby," Roberts said. "We're not Jewish, but we believe in the Jewish proverb: 'If you can save one soul, you can save the world.'"

During his race against a Republican opponent, Roberts was endorsed by the retiring incumbent, Pam Slater-Price. He has also begun discussions with Supervisor Dianne Jacob, possibly the most fiscally conservative member of the board.

He also looks forward to working with Supervisor Bill Horn, an ex-Marine who supported Proposition 8, the measure to ban same-sex marriage, and has said he opposes gays in the military. "He says things from time to time that remind me of my father," Roberts said.

For all of their fiscal conservatism, the supervisors have not dabbled much in social issues in a way that might satisfy some elements in the GOP. The board took no position on Proposition 8. Health clinics in gay neighborhoods and AIDS prevention programs are funded without controversy.

Roberts may be different in another respect from his colleagues: He will not be assigning a staff member to send out his Twitter messages. He sends out his own tweets — lots of them, on topics political and personal.

Last week, among many tweets, was one announcing that he has hired his predecessor's chief-of-staff, praising him for his "broad experience, management style and network of contacts."

And the next tweet: "Took the kids out for frozen yogurt at Seaside Yogurt in Del Mar for a treat."

tony.perry@latimes.com

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